Fantasy players rejoice as Week 1 is finally here! The defenses I touch on aren’t necessarily my ranks, but my overall thoughts on the defenses I find notable. The goal of these pieces is to give you a concise, actionable rundown on defenses for the upcoming week.
The defensive order is based on their opponents implied team total, from lowest to highest. The team in parenthesis is the defenses opponent.
Plays include streamers and all other options you should feel comfortable starting.
Buffalo Bills (vs. New York Jets – 15.5-point implied total)
Streaming against the Jets will be a common theme this season as their offense is a complete mess. If you’re stuck with one of your highly drafted defenses in a poor matchup, streaming the Bills may not be a bad idea as the Jets are implied for 15.5 points. The Jets averaged a meager 5.3 yards per play in 2016 and ranked dead last in red zone touchdowns as they were able to convert just 43 percent of their drives that made it inside the 20-yard line for a touchdown (per RotoViz drive app.)
Houston Texans (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – 17-point implied total)
The Texans have the pleasure of facing Blake Bortles in their home opener. With just 25 percent (third-worst in the league) of the Jaguars drives making it to the red zone, it shouldn’t be a shock that they are implied for just 17 points. Bortles finished the 2016-2017 season ranking in the bottom-12 in interception and touchdown rate, along with bottom-five in QBR, and adjust yards per attempt (AY/A.)
Los Angeles Rams (vs. Indianapolis Colts – 19-point implied total)
With Scott Tolzien now the starter for Week 1, the Rams look like an appealing option as the Colts should struggle to move the ball. The Colts’ backup has an abysmal career 5.2 AY/A. Tolzien started one game in 2016 against the Steelers on Thanksgiving where he threw for 205 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. With an implied team total of 19 points, the Rams should be in a good spot on Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Cleveland Browns – 19.5-point implied total)
Deshone Kizer takes on a Steelers defense that ranked 11th overall in defensive DVOA last season. Vegas expects the Browns to struggle as they’re implied for just 19.5 points. The Steelers are currently eight-point favorites, which may put Kizer into a game script that forces him to throw a lot, which has potential to lead to sacks and turnovers.
New England Patriots (vs. Kansas City Chiefs – 19.75-point implied total)
The Chiefs have a tall task ahead of them on the road against the Patriots. Kansas City isn’t an overpowering offense, though they do have some weapons in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Alex Smith likely isn’t going to push the ball down field, and if they do make it to the red zone, they’ll still need to convert. They ranked 30th in red zone touchdown rate last season, and the Patriots allowed a score on just 26.8 percent of their drives last season, which was a league-best. It also doesn’t help that 16.5 percent of the Chiefs’ drives in last season ended because of an offensive turnover, which also was a league-high.
Denver Broncos (vs. Los Angeles Chargers – 19.75-point implied team total)
The Broncos have one of the best defenses in the league as they ranked first in defensive DVOA last season. The Chargers are implied for just 19.75 points, and this will be no easy task for Philip Rivers. Rivers has averaged 218.75 passing yards and 1.25 touchdowns against Denver in the last two seasons.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Baltimore Ravens – 19.95-point implied team total)
At one point, it was thought Joe Flacco would miss the Ravens’ Week 1 opener, but he appears to be on track to play. It’s not ideal that the Bengals are without Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones for this game, but with an implied team total of 19.95 points, the Bengals are a serviceable option, especially given the typical low-scoring nature of these games shape out.
Carolina Panthers (@ San Francisco 49ers – 21.5-point implied team total)
Brian Hoyer and the 49ers could be in for a long day Sunday afternoon. The 49ers’ offensive line ranked 30th last season in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate (8.4 percent), while Carolina’s defensive line ranked fifth in adjusted sack rate (7.3 percent.)
Defenses with limited upside in the current matchup, but shouldn’t be dropped.
Arizona Cardinals (@ Detroit Lions – 23.25-point implied team total)
The Cardinals were drafted in most season-long leagues this season, but they are on the road against a Lions team implied for 23.25 points. They also lost defensive end Calais Campbell, who was ranked in the top six among defensive ends against the pass and run, per PFF. They also lost both starting safeties in Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger, PFF’s No. 7 and No. 8 overall safeties in the 2016-2017 season.
Minnesota Vikings (vs. New Orleans Saints – 22.3-point implied team total)
It’s never ideal facing a Drew Brees-led offense, which is where the Vikings sit on Monday night. The Vikings ranked eighth in defensive DVOA last season, including eighth against the pass. The Saints ranked fifth in red zone touchdown percentage, as they converted 73 percent of their red zone trips into six points. Although the Saints are now without Brandin Cooks, I don’t have many doubts that Brees can still throw up plenty of points. The Vikings pressured quarterbacks on 36 percent of dropbacks last season, but Brees ranked eighth in league with a 77.5 quarterback rating when under pressure, per PFF.
Seattle Seahawks (@ Green Bay Packers – 27-point implied team total)
Although the Seahawks have one of the best defenses in the league and recently beefed up their defensive line with Sheldon Richardson, the Packers are still implied for 27 points. If you don’t have a better option and don’t want to roster two defenses, you may just have to ride this one out and hope that Vegas isn’t right in assuming the Packers score almost four touchdowns.
Kansas City Chiefs (@ New England Patriots – 28.25-point implied team total)
With the Patriots implied for 28.25 points, it’s best to sit the Chiefs if you can.
Worth Mentioning Quick Hits
Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Houston Texans – 22.5-point implied team total)
Jacksonville may go overlooked “because they’re the Jaguars,” but they’re no slouch on defense, especially in the secondary. They added A.J. Bouye who will start alongside Jalen Ramsey. Bouye and Ramsey were PFF’s No. 6 and No. 22 ranked corners in coverage last season. The Jaguars allowed 5.0 yards per play last year, which was fourth-best in the league. Only the Broncos, Cardinals, and Seahawks allowed a lower yards per play.
Los Angeles Chargers (@ Denver Broncos – 23.25-point implied team total)
It typically isn’t ideal to target defenses that are underdogs, but the Chargers are an interesting case. They ranked ninth in pass DVOA and 15th in rush DVOA last season and now will have Jason Verrett returning to start opposite of Casey Hayward. Hayward was PFF’s No. 6 corner in coverage last season. The Broncos are implied for 23.25 points, but in most cases, home teams are automatically spotted three points by Vegas in the NFL and Denver ranked 23rd in points per drive last year.
New York Giants (@ Dallas Cowboys – 25.5-point implied team total)
To me, the Cowboys’ 25.5-point implied team total seems a little generous against this Giants defense, even if Ezekiel Elliot is cleared for this game. The Giants ranked second in rush DVOA last season and allowed the second-fewest rushing yards to opposing teams. They allowed 13 passing touchdowns (second-best behind Denver) and ranked sixth in yards per play.
Kicker fantasy points have a strong correlation to Vegas implied team totals. Here are the top kickers in order of implied team total.
1. Stephen Gostkowski (28.3-point implied team total)
2. Matt Bryant (28.3-point implied team total)
3. Chris Boswell (27.5-point implied team total)
4. Mason Crosby (27-point implied team total)
5. Graham Gano (26.5-point implied team total)
6. Ryan Succop (26.3-point implied team total)
7. Dan Bailey (25.5-point implied team total)
8. Steven Hauschka (25-point implied team total)
9. Phil Dawson (24.8-point implied team total)
10. Caleb Sturgis (24.3-point implied team total)
11. Sebastian Janikowski (24.3-point implied team total)
12. Blair Walsh (24-point implied team total)
13. Dustin Hopkins (23.3-point implied team total)
14. Matt Prater (23.3-point implied team total)
15. Dustin Hopkins (23.3-point implied team total)
16. Brandon McManus (23.3-point implied team total)
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